The prison proper dated from 1822, and it had grown, wing by wing, until its present considerable size had been reached. Its population consisted of individuals of all degrees of intelligence and crime, from murderers to minor practitioners of larceny. It had what was known as the “Pennsylvania System” of regulation for its inmates, which was nothing more nor less than solitary confinement for all concerned—a life of absolute silence and separate labor in separate cells.
Barring his comparatively recent experience in the county jail, which after all was far from typical, Cowperwood had never been in a prison in his life. Once, when a boy, in one of his perambulations through several of the surrounding towns, he had passed a village “lock-up,” as the town prisons were then called—a small, square, gray building with long iron-barred windows, and he had seen, at one of these rather depressing apertures on the second floor, a none too prepossessing drunkard or town ne’er-do-well who looked down on him with bleary eyes, unkempt hair, and a sodden, waxy, pallid face, and called—for it was summer and the jail window was open:
“Hey, sonny, get me a plug of tobacco, will you?”
Cowperwood, who had looked up, shocked and disturbed by the man’s disheveled appearance, had called back, quite without stopping to think:
“Naw, I can’t.”
“Look out you don’t get locked up yourself sometime, you little runt,” the man had replied, savagely, only half recovered from his debauch of the day before.
He had not thought of this particular scene in years, but now suddenly it came back to him. Here he was on his way to be locked up in this dull, somber prison, and it was snowing, and he was being cut out of human affairs as much as it was possible for him to be cut out.
No friends were permitted to accompany him beyond the outer gate—not even Steger for the time being, though he might visit him later in the day. This was an inviolable rule. Zanders being known to the gate-keeper, and bearing his commitment paper, was admitted at once. The others turned solemnly away. They bade a gloomy if affectionate farewell to Cowperwood, who, on his part, attempted to give it all an air of inconsequence—as, in part and even here, it had for him.
“Well, good-by for the present,” he said, shaking hands. “I’ll be all right and I’ll get out soon. Wait and see. Tell Lillian not to worry.”